Spider-Man movies are like pizza: even when they’re bad, they’re still pretty good. Watching the colourful, quipping web slinger fight outlandish villains in NYC has always felt the most like seeing comic books come to life on screen, even if some of the plots would make a rat king look orderly (ahem, Spider-Man 3). While others were less enthusiastic, I was fully on board with Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield’s iteration, but I wasn’t heartbroken when I found out we weren’t getting a third either. Instead we got what many fans have been clamouring for for years: Spidey joining Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Sony and Marvel debuted Tom Holland as their newly minted wall crawler in Captain: Civil War last summer and it was easily one of the film’s highlights. Now the web-head is getting his sixth chance fifteen years to make us care about his extra curricular activities, and while this pizza may be a little cold, it still tastes just fine.
One of the first things announced about this reboot is that they’d be skipping the origin story we’ve seen twice already. Boy gets bit by radioactive spider, boy gets spider-like super powers. Got it? Good. There are lots of cues that tell us this happened to Parker relatively recently. He’s still learning how to use his powers, his web slinging isn’t as graceful as we’re used to seeing and sometimes it feels like watching someone button mash in a Spider-Man video game they don’t really know how to play. In retrospect this makes his appearance in Civil War feel even more shoehorned in, as his skills were somehow developed enough to take on half of the Avengers yet when he gets home he can barely thwart a couple guys robbing an ATM in plastic Avengers masks. The movie actually begins with that Civil War airport hangar entrance from Spidey’s perspective as he records a private video diary between familiar parts of that fight (such a millennial). It’s a cute way to kickoff and right away we get a sense of Parker’s enthusiasm, naivety, and sense of awe at this world he suddenly finds himself a part of.
As the title and early press indicated, Spider-Man: Homecoming leans heavily into the high school coming-of-age aspect of Peter’s teenaged existence. This helps keep things relatively light and separates it from the pack a little, but Spidey still must ultimately face a generic villain in The Vulture (Michael Keaton). Since everything has to be part of MCU’s connective tissue, The Vulture is making and selling weapons from alien tech salvaged after the attack in the first Avengers film. While I’m still enjoying Keaton’s comeback, The Vulture does very little to solve Marvel’s villain problem. When we first meet him, he’s a working-class contractor who gets screwed over by S.H.I.E.L.D., but there’s not much else here to justify his villainy.
Even without the origin story, the film still bites off a little more than it can chew. We have Parker learning to use his powers and new suit, fighting low level crime, trying to impress Stark, sneaking around Aunt May, getting in over his head with The Vulture, all while still dealing with high school problems like homework, bullying, and the girl he’s crushing on (Laura Harrier). The film’s SIX(!) credited screenwriters juggle everything handily and manage to keep the running time from becoming too unwieldy, but it still feels like there’s some unnecessary cheese stuffed into the crust.
The pace and general lightheartedness of Spider-Man: Homecoming make for another highly watchable superhero flick. Tom Holland is a little too handsome for nerdy Parker, but he’s still a solid lead helped out by an ensemble of both new and familiar faces (Hannibal Buress, Donald Glover, and Martin Starr are among the comedic actors who show up to help out with the laughs). While Holland is clearly having fun as the newest Avenger-in-training, Robert Downey Jr. seems a little more fatigued as Tony Stark in the few scenes he appears. For Peter, everything is “awesome”, but the battle-worn Stark doesn’t seem to be having fun anymore, and after 15 Marvel movies (Iron Man has been a main player in six of them) it’s easy to relate. In this regard it becomes a little difficult to differentiate the character’s feelings from the actor’s.
As director Jon Watts (Cop Car) surely understood when taking this gig, there’s not much room for auteurs here (poor Edgar Wright had to learn that the hard way). The Marvel films have become like a consistently good TV series, and Spider-Man is the new adopted cousin brought in to appeal to younger viewers. It may be missing the visual flair of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, but it’s clear that the somewhat homogenized Homecoming will fit nicely into Kevin Feige and the MCU’s masterplan to take over the world (or at least the multiplexes).